Doing Well by Doing Good, Part 3

As part of its commitment to community service, Return Path has sponsored two teams of people to go to New Orleans to assist Habitat for Humanity in the post-Katrina and Rita clean up and rebuilding effort. Our colleague Tom Bartel wrote about the experience in helping with the clean up team last year. And just last week six of us (Russ Bird, Dan Deneweth, Lisa Filipek, Ezra Fischer, Stephanie Miller and Melinda Plemel) headed down to the Crescent City and found there is still very much to be done more than 15 months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Here’s a quick glimpse at our efforts, to give you an idea of the daily struggles still faced in the New Orleans area.

  • We helped build steps and an ADA-compliant ramp for a new mobile office building for the Habitat team, all 20 of which had been housed in one room!
  • We checked off the punch list at Grandma’s. Grandma Braud is a 5-foot-tall, 82 year old who has 10 children, 30 grandchildren and 36 great-grandchildren. Apparently she raised nearly all these children herself and is pretty much exactly as wonderful, wise and tough as you’d imagine her to be. The land is hers, the Habitat house is for her granddaughter — and helping her with the last steps was satisfying. We painted, hung shutters and prepped the storm door.
  • We got a chance to drive through St. Bernard’s Parish where the Return Path team volunteered last year. We saw the first house we cleaned out (remember that before anything could be done with these homes, volunteers had to clear out the five inches of mud and gunk and trash that were left behind when the water receded). The owners upgraded it significantly and appear to have moved back in. Other houses on that street are still abandoned shells and very dismal. Then, right in that same neighborhood there are rows of really big, impressive houses …not at all like the bungalows that were there before the storms. We were told that many homeowners had paid off their homes and were able to use the insurance money to upgrade – which was a great comfort to us, as our first impression was that some speculators had gobbled up the land and the previous owners were priced out of their own neighborhoods.

The best part of doing this sort of thing is always the people you meet. We stayed at St. Timothy’s church (think college dorm room) with another small group from Ohio. The gracious church folks invited us all to their Tuesday night barbecue. And of course the Habitat construction crews are just wonderful people. This small group of five staffers have built and opened more than 50 homes just this year (with more to come). They have the patience of Job – imagine trying to do your job with six to eight volunteers who are well meaning, overly eager and absolutely incompetent. Oh, and add in some really dangerous power tools while you are at it. These men are joyful, really love teaching and make the whole endeavor a lot of fun. What a great lesson in leadership.

It’s hard to be out of the office and a little out of touch with clients (conference calls from the hot car on a loud job site are not fun). But it was wonderful to be even a small part of this important work, and we are all grateful to our CEO Matt Blumberg and the rest of the Return Path family for giving us a chance to participate.

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